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September 22, 2017 - Top 10 Skills I Didn't Know I'd Need As A Tutor!

Janet Dorken


When I started my tutoring journey I knew the skills that I would need. I would need to know my subject matter backward and forward. I would need to be organized and friendly. I also knew that I would need to have the skills to keep parents informed and on board with our progress, but there were some skills that I didn’t know I would need! If you’re a tutor I’m sure you can relate to this list!

1) Reading Upside Down and Backward

In our tutoring clinic we sit directly across the desk from our students. Although this set-up is great for working with our students it requires expertise in the skill of reading upside down and backward! It’s a skill that is difficult when you start but over time you barely notice that the words are upside down!

2) Art

When working with students who have difficulty processing oral and written language it often becomes necessary to draw out what you are trying to explain. This can encompass anything from a diagram to a full-on picture. Either way, your art skills need to be top-notch (or at least passable – the students are very kind when it comes to critiques!).

3) Singing

Though not an often-used skill singing sometimes comes into play when finding the stressed the syllable in words or when we’re working on memorizing certain spelling rules to help with retention.

4) Not Rushing Students

Understanding that students process information at different rates is critical to the success of each and every student. Shifting your focus from checking lessons off of a list and moving to the next one to focusing on ensuring students fully understand the content before moving on makes a world of difference to the effectiveness of your instruction.

5) Getting Comfortable with Silence

This is an extremely difficult skill to master and one that many teachers and tutors often overlook. When working with dyslexic students or any students with slower processing speeds it is absolutely critical that you become comfortable with silence. Allow your student the time to process your question before they begin to answer. This means getting comfortable with the silence that follows your question.

6) Guiding Rather Than Giving

I think it is human nature to want to help someone who is struggling but the real learning happens when students make connections themselves. Rather than jumping in and providing the answer when a student is struggling, learn to guide them toward the answer instead. Pose questions that get them thinking and that connect previous knowledge to new information.

7) Being a Great Listener

The students that we tutor have often spent their day in a classroom where they struggle. They struggle to follow along, they struggle in their reading, with spelling tests, with a myriad of other things and by the time they get to tutoring they’re drained and frustrated. Before we start our session we always make time to listen to how their day went and let them vent about their struggles. Sometimes just having someone there to listen helps!

8) Patience

I knew I would need patience to be a great tutor but I didn’t know quite how much patience I would need. As outlined above, you need patience with the process (waiting for them to process the question, guiding them to the answers, etc.) but sometimes you also need patience with behaviour issues. It’s inevitable that you will need to deal with behaviour issues so packing a box-full of patience is never a bad idea!

9) Eye-Hand Coordination

Within our lessons we use physical literacy skills to help students understand the concepts we are teaching. For example, we’ll get a student to build a word by giving them the phonemes in the word but rather than just building the word orally and with index cards we’ll get them to “jump out the word” while using a skipping rope or “throw the word” by throwing or bouncing a ball back and forth with the tutor. As a result, our tutors need to have some eye-hand coordination to help make the lessons fun!

10) Sticker Warden

Now I’m sure most tutors can relate to this one: Sticker Warden. Students love stickers and we love using them for all kinds of things but man oh man, I need to police that sticker bucket like it’s my job!


How about you, can you share any skills that you didn’t know you would need before you started tutoring?


Janet Dorken


Aarken Tutoring Inc.

May 16, 2017 - The 5 Things You MUST Know When Building Words

Sara Dorken


Kids love big words, they just do! Let’s face it, it’s way more fun to learn about a word like <herbivore> than it is to learn about <cat> or <it>.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s important, no, essential to be able to decode smaller words. In fact, the whole first module of our reading and spelling program is dedicated to decoding and encoding smaller (monosyllabic) words. But what if your child or student wants to tackle some bigger (polysyllabic) words? Well, don’t fret! Here are 5 essential things you can teach them that will help them with reading, spelling and understanding polysyllabic words!

*Side note: don’t try to tackle these all at once! Use example words to talk about and illustrate each of these points! Real understanding takes time and repetition, don’t try to rush it!*

  1. What is the base? A base is an element of language that holds the most meaning. As an example, in the word <playing> the base is <play>. When you know what base you’re working with, adding suffixes – and knowing what changes to make (or not to make) – becomes a whole lot simpler.


  1. Does your suffix start with a vowel? A suffix is an element of language that fixes (attaches) itself to bases or other suffixes. Going back to the example of <playing>, <play> is the base and <-ing> is the suffix.  Suffixes that begin with a vowel often cause changes to the base word when added. If your suffix begins with a consonant then go ahead and just add that suffix without changing the base word. If your suffix begins with a vowel then you have a bit more work to do! Check the items below!



  1. Does your base word end with a <y>? If your suffix begins with a vowel and your base word ends in <y> then you need to change the <y> to an <i>. You do this ALMOST all the time. UNLESS:
    1. Changing the <y> to <i> would result in <ii>;
    2. The base word ends in <vowel-y> (example: <oy>, <ey>, <ay>, etc.);
    3. You are creating a compound word (2 stand alone words together, example: babysit, flyaway).

*If any of these 3 cases apply then keep the <y> and add the suffix!


  1. Does your base word end with an <e>? If your suffix begins with a vowel and your base word ends with <e> you need to replace the final single non-syllabic <e> with the suffix (remove the <e> and add the suffix). There are some words where we need to keep the <e> (<noticeable>, <courageous>, <manageable>, etc.) for various reasons. Can you think of the reasons why we would keep the <e> in those words? What would happen if we removed the <e> in those words?


  1. Does your base word end with a single consonant, preceded by a single vowel? If your suffix begins with a vowel and your base word ends with a single consonant, with a single vowel right before it (example: <cap> or <rib>) then you need to double the single final consonant before adding the suffix (example: <cap> + <-ing> à <capping>, <rib> + <-ed> à <ribbed>). This is in a monosyllabic word. If you have a polysyllabic word, see below!



  1. Is your base word polysyllabic?

This is a little bit more complicated because it deals with something we call “stress”. English is a stress-timed language which means that the emphasis we place on different word parts changes as we add affixes to the word. If it didn’t we would sound like robots when we talked!


When to double:

If you have a base word that ends with a single consonant, with a single vowel right before it and the stress falls on the word part that comes right before the suffix then you need to double the single final consonant before adding the suffix (example: <recap> + <-ed> à <recapped> or <unclip> + <-ing> à <unclipping>).


When NOT to double:

 If the stress does not fall on the word part that comes right before the suffix, you do not double the final consonant (example:  <legal> + <-ity> à <legality>).

If your base ends with <w> or <x> you do not double the final consonant. Why? Because we never have a <ww> or <xx> in English!


Being able to find the stress in a word sometimes takes practice, make sure that you use the word in a sentence and do your best not to over-pronounce the word. Try yelling it in a sentence, “You need to UNCLIP your helmet before taking it off!” the syllable that is stressed will sound louder when you yell it. You can even try to switch the stress, in the word <legal> try to say it with the stress on the <gal>. You’ll end up saying a word that doesn’t quite sound right.


Knowing the points above will definitely help your child or student when it comes to making decisions about what to do when adding suffixes. It might even help you too, I know it helped me! As it turns out, English spelling actually makes sense. 

May 5, 2017 - The Tutor Coach's Adrianne Meldrum Live Webinar with CEO Sara Dorken.

1 in 5 children have dyslexia. As a tutor, you will be working with these students. If you've looked into training before, you know that it can take months before you get certified and thousands of dollars too. Today, I'll be introducing you to Sara Dorken of Aarken Tutoring. She's created an entire training and lesson framework to help tutors like you start helping students TODAY, not months from now. Watch the webinar to learn more.

Click Here to watch for FREE

March 22, 2017 - Active For Life interview with Aarken Tutoring Inc. CEO, Sara Dorken

How incorporating physical literacy is helping kids have academic success - by Shelley Boettcher


Educators at Aarken Tutoring in Ottawa are having success teaching kids to read — by getting them to move while they learn.

Their trick? Incorporating physical literacy into each program.

“We’re getting students up and moving, using activities to build physical literacy,” says Sara Dorken, Aarken Tutoring’s chief executive officer. “It helps students to learn and have fun while they’re doing it.”

The tutoring program is modeled after the Orton-Gillingham instructional approach for teaching people who have difficulties learning to read.

“It uses multi-sensory techniques to teach students the sounds that letters make, and the correspondence between sounds and letters,” says Dorken, who studied the approach at the Dyslexia Training Institute in San Diego, California.

Those techniques may include getting students to trace letters in rice or sand as they say the sounds each letter makes.

But Dorken, who holds a master’s degree in human kinetics from the University of Ottawa, decided to take things one step further by adapting Active for Life’s free physical literacy resources for use in the classroom.

For example, students may practice throwing skills with a classic bucket toss game — but while throwing, they may also be asked to sound out letters or words, chosen from a stack of index cards.

“They toss a ball into each bucket while saying each sound,” Dorken says. “And then they blend the sound together to read the word.” The physical movements help to reinforce the sound each letter makes and, as a result, students remember those sounds better, she says.

There are currently 15 students, ages 5 through 16, enrolled in the in-house program at Aarken Tutoring in Ottawa.

While Aarken has been in existence for the past five years, Dorken began incorporating physical literacy skills into programming in January 2016.

Now she and her team are including it into all aspects of their tutoring. Activities are similar for all ages, but are adapted based on the student’s skill level and grade.

Each session includes a standard lesson and then, within that lesson, “a student can pick an activity to solidify what they’ve learned that day,” she says.

So far, so good. The parents are happy with what they’re seeing academically, she says, while the kids can’t wait to come to their lessons.

“They love getting up and moving, and it gives them a concrete way to remember what we’re doing.”

It’s been such a success, Dorken has expanded her offerings to include an online tutoring component that includes more than 150 multi-sensory lessons for teachers, parents, and other tutors.

For Dorken, bringing physical activity into the classroom just makes sense. She has spent years reading about and researching physical literacy, especially how it affects students with ADD and ADHD, and she has seen the results first-hand.

“There are strong links between being physically active and better brain development,” she says. “Physical activity increases brain development. It strengthens the neural connections in our brains. And it’s fun.”


Follow Shelley on Twitter, @shelley_wine.

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